Ken Corr

What is a Narcissist?

Every once in a while, I will hear someone referred to as a narcissist.  Some might be using that label to simply refer to someone who is arrogant or has a privileged and entitled attitude.  But the term narcissist is actually a reference to a mental health diagnosis.   Narcissist is an abbreviated reference to the diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  Before we offhandedly or cavalierly refer to someone as a narcissist, we ought to know to what that term refers.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is one of ten personality disorders that is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Edition 5 (DSM 5), which is used to diagnose mental illness.  In an article on Narcissistic Personality Disorder, the Mayo Clinic lists these diagnostic criteria:

–Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance
–Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
–Exaggerating your achievements and talents
–Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
–Believing that you are superior and can only be understood by or associate with equally special people
–Requiring constant admiration
–Having a sense of entitlement
–Expecting special favors and unquestioning compliance with your expectations
–Taking advantage of others to get what you want
–Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
–Being envious of others and believing others envy you
–Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner (cf., http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/narcissistic-personality-disorder/basics/symptoms/con-20025568)

Those who struggle with this disorder typically have little empathy for others.  They aren’t able to judge themselves accurately and have little insight into their own failings.  Because they desire constant adulation from others, they will show little tolerance for criticism.   They may seem boastful and arrogant and will often belittle others whom they deem as inferior to themselves or a threat to their ideas.  Often, they are bombastic, which masks a feeling of inferiority.  It is easy to see how this disorder makes relationships distressing and often, persons with this disorder, will have multiple failed relationships.

If this describes your current partner or family member, life can be very difficult. There are some therapies, such as, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), that purport to help personality disorders, but my experience is that people with these disorders don’t respond well to therapy because they aren’t able to gain much insight into their behavior.  Instead, they tend to blame others for the problems.  Creating boundaries that protect your health and well-being is one approach.

Before you label someone, please know what you are describing and before you get into a relationship with someone, look closely at their behavior.  It is easier to say No earlier than later.

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